Franz Weissmann

Other Names: Franz Joseph Weissmann | Franz Josef Weissmann
  • Analysis
  • Biography
    Franz Joseph Weissmann (Knittelfeld, Austria, 1911 - Rio de Janeiro, 2005). Sculptor. Arrived in Brazil in 1924. Between 1939 and 1941, in Rio de Janeiro, he took courses in architecture, sculpture, painting and drawing at the National School of Fine Arts (Enba). From 1942 to 1944, he studied drawing, sculpture, modelling and casting with August Zamoyski (1893 - 1970). In 1945, he moved to Belo Horizonte, where he gave private classes in drawing and sculpture. Three years later, Guignard (1896 - 1962) invited him to lecture in sculpture at the Escola do Parque [Park School], which was later renamed the Escola Guignard [Guignard School]. He initially developed a figurativist body of work, but from the 1950s onwards, gradually developed work in a Constructivist style, emphasising geometric forms that were subject to cuts and folds, using iron plates, steel wires, aluminium bars and sheets. He became a member of the Grupo Frente [Frente Group] in 1955. The following year, he moved back to Rio de Janeiro, taking part in the National Exhibition of Concrete Art, in 1957. In 1959, he became one of the founders of the Neoconcretist Group. In the same year, he went to Europe and the Far East, returning to Brazil in 1965. During the 1960s, he showed his Amassados [Crumpled] series, developed in Europe with zinc or aluminium sheets worked with hammers, clubs and cutting instruments, temporarily aligning himself with Informalism, but subsequently moving back towards Constructivist circles. During the 1970s he received the Best Sculptor Prize from the São Paulo Association of Art Critics (APCA), took part in the International Open-Air Sculpture Biennale in Antwerp, Belgium and the Venice Biennale. He also made monumental sculptures for public spaces in several Brazilian cities, such as Praça da Sé [Cathedral Square] in São Paulo, the Parque da Catacumba in Rio de Janeiro and the Palácio das Artes in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais.

    Critical Commentary
    Franz Weissmann arrived in Brazil with his family in 1921, settling in the interior of the state of São Paulo. In 1927, he moved to São Paulo where he taught Portuguese to foreigners and made contact with artists during visits to exhibitions. In 1929, his family moved to Rio de Janeiro. Despite taking the preparatory course for the Escola Politécnica, he decided to follow his childhood vocation, enrolling, in 1939, in the National School of Fine Arts (Enba) in Rio de Janeiro. During his two years there, he took courses in architecture, painting, drawing and sculpture, but was unsuited to academic teaching. He abandoned his studies in 1941 and began to study at the free workshop of the Polish sculptor, August Zamoyski (1893 - 1970) from 1942-1943, from whom he learned traditional techniques of sculpture.

    Around the end of 1944, Weissmann moved to Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), the city where his brother Karl had been living since 1932, in a kind of 'voluntary retreat' in order to free himself from 'the weight of academia'. While there, he continued to work on sculptures and figurative drawings that became increasingly simplified. In 1946, Weissmann was invited to hold what would be his first individual exhibition, at the students' association of Enba, in Rio de Janeiro. In 1948, at the invitation of Guignard (1896 - 1962), he began to give life drawing, modelling and sculpture classes at the Escola do Parque [Park School] in Belo Horizonte, where he remained until 1956. His pupils include Amilcar de Castro (1920 - 2002), Farnese de Andrade (1926 - 1996) and Mary Vieira (1927 - 2001).

    In an incessant search for the essence of the figure, the artist realised sculptures of increasingly geometrised forms, in which empty space already appears as a defining element. During the course of his career, the 'active void', as the artist calls such spaces, became an obsession. It is the play between planes and their links to the empty space that gives rise to the three-dimensionality that opens to the world in Weissmann's sculptures. In 1951, Weissmann made his first constructivist experiments that culminated in the work Cubo Vazado [Empty Cube] (1951). This work, one of the first Brazilian constructivist sculptures, was rejected by the jury of the 1st Bienal Internacional de São Paulo [São Paulo International Bienal] at the same time that Unidade Tripartida [Tripartite Unity], by Max Bill (1908 - 1994), was awarded a prize, encouraging the development of Constructivism in Brazil.

    In 1954, Weissmann abandoned figuration for good, winning several competitions for public sculpture projects in the same year. Of these, only the Monumento à Liberdade de Expressão do Pensamento [Monument to the Freedom of Expression of Thought], commissioned by the São Paulo Association of Broadcasting Companies and sponsored by the Brazilian Press Association was executed in the Quinta da Boa Vista suburb of Rio de Janeiro. The monument was destroyed in 1962, due to 'urban reforms' at its location. Over more than 50 years of output, Weissmann consolidated his position as one of the leading public sculptors in Brazil. On this aspect of his work, he declared: "When they ask me to make a public sculpture for a given place, I study the location to make sure that my work functions relative to its surroundings (...) My work is about communicating with the public, with the people, and the best way for me to communicate and educate the people is to put art in the streets".

    During the 1950s, after returning to Rio de Janeiro, Weissmann participated in exhibitions by the Frente Group as well as in Bienais, signing the Neoconcretist Manifesto (1959). He carried out experiments with steel wires in his 'linear sculpture' series, as well as with modular forms that eliminated any kind of base for his sculptures. In 1957, the police of Minas Gerais decided to transform the studio he maintained in the basement of the Escola do Parque Municipal into a prison, throwing out all of the studies Weissmann had made during his years in Belo Horizonte while the artist was absent, thereby destroying almost all of his work from the 1940s and 50s.

    In 1958, his work Torre [Tower] was awarded the Foreign Travel Prize at the 8th National Salon of Modern Art. In the following year, he left for Europe with his family, where he remained until the end of 1964, returning to Brazil only once during this period, and visiting the Far East in order to gain a better appreciation of Oriental philosophy. Although he visited various European countries, he spent most of his time in Spain. For some time, Weissmann lived in Irún, a fishermen's village that was also home to his friend, the Basque sculptor, Jorge Oteiza (1908 - 2003). The works that he realised during this period, known as 'crumpled works', temporarily abandoned geometric construction, being noted by critics as an 'expressive interregnum' in his researches, in which his concern with materiality takes centre stage.

    Weissmann returned to Brazil in 1965, resuming his experiments with geometric and modular forms in the following year. In 1967, he presented Arapuca at the 9th São Paulo International Bienal in which colour appears for the first time as a determining element of the sculptural space. From then onwards, almost all of his sculptures would have an application of colour. Over time, Weissmann remained faithful to his creative process: never drawing the piece to be constructed, but preferring to work directly with the material, cutting and folding his small models with his hands, and later expanding these at a metal plant.

Related Media (1)




Research Source

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